Every child around the world deserves the opportunity to learn. Education is a basic human right and a necessary pathway to ending extreme poverty. We know that equitable, quality education has an immense power to transform the lives of individuals, communities, and nations.
Unfortunately, our data shows that across the globe students do not always attend school in a safe setting, and many experience unacceptably high rates of school-related gender-based violence (SRGBV). UNESCO and UN Women’s Global Guidance to Address SRGBV define SRGBV as “any act or threat of sexual, physical, or psychological violence occurring in and around schools, perpetrated as a result of gender norms.” This can include teacher-perpetrated abuse, such as corporal punishment or sexual coercion. It can also include peer-perpetrated abuse, including physical violence, bullying, or discrimination.
In 2020, classrooms look different as communities grapple with the COVID-19 pandemic and 1.5 billion children are impacted by school closures worldwide. For many students, this means class is canceled. For others, it means logging on to virtual lessons. For more information and resources about the changing world of education visit our COVID-19 page.
There are large gaps in global research about the complexities and nuances of SRGBV. In response, USAID’s Higher Education Solutions Network (HESN) supported AidData, a research lab at William & Mary, and Together for Girls to conduct secondary analyses of the Violence Against Children & Youth Surveys (VACS) data to identify the prevalence of SRGBV, as well as details on violence perpetration, victimization risk, and post violence behaviors–including schools absenteeism, disclosure, service-seeking, and service-receiving–in selected countries.
This project is an exciting opportunity to unpack the national-level data available in the VACS to bolster our understanding of SRGBV. By better understanding the complexities and nuances of violence in schools, our project’s goal is to create a framework for governments and other actors to better prevent and address violence in school.
Guided by data, communities can enact evidence-based policies and engage in actions that prevent violence and create a safer environment for all students. Read on for key highlights from the project and to learn more about what the VACS can tell us about SRGBV.
The VACS are led by national governments with technical support by CDC as part of the Together for Girls partnership. The national-level surveys measure the prevalence, past 12-month incidence, and circumstances surrounding violence in childhood and young adulthood (before age 24). For more information about the VACS, visit our About the VACS page.
While the VACS tell us more about violence in schools than any other widely applied survey, they are comprehensive surveys of violence, not explicitly focused on educational settings or SRGBV. An important limitation of this research is that these SRGBV prevalence estimates may not be fully representative of the spectrum of forms of SRGBV experienced.
The secondary analyses considered five VACS data sets (from Honduras, Malawi, Nigeria, Uganda, and Zambia.), utilizing cross-sectional regression analysis techniques. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) provided technical consultation on the project. Key research questions include:
– What is the national prevalence of SRGBV?
– Do boys and girls experience similar rates of SRGBV?
– Are boys or girls more likely to experience one form of SRGBV?
– How does SRGBV affect rates of school absenteeism for boys and girls?
– What are patterns for disclosing incidents of SRGBV and seeking or receiving services for boys and girls?
This graph displays findings for overall rates of gender-based violence among survey respondents who had ever attended school and experienced one or more forms of sexual violence perpetrated by classmates or teachers. There is a significant variation in prevalence by sex. Uganda had the highest proportion of students report experiencing SRGBV, with 54% of male students and 45% of female students, while Nigeria was the only country where female students report experiencing higher rates of SRGBV overall. To put the percentages in proportion, based on World Bank population data from the years the VACS were conducted, the Uganda data represents about 4.5 million students and the Nigeria data represents about 13.5 million students.
These graphs represent physical violence perpetrated among students. We found that overall, males were more likely to perpetuate and report experiencing violence. Additionally, female students were much more likely to report experiencing physical violence at the hands of another female student.
We found that peer violence in schools resulted in high rates of subsequent school absenteeism and that girls generally experience greater rates of absence. In Uganda, nearly 30% of students who report experiencing physical violence at the hands of a peer missed school as a result.
Rates of sexual violence perpetrated by teachers against students were lower, overall. Girls were at least twice as likely to report experiencing sexual violence at the hands of a teacher.
These graphs show the prevalence of corporal punishment perpetrated by teachers against male and female students. While we weren’t surprised to see that male teachers perpetrate more corporal punishment overall, it was interesting to note the higher risk for corporal punishment at the hands of a male teacher in Zambia, Uganda, and Malawi, and the opposite dynamic in Nigeria. Robust data can have an impact in elucidating complex gender dynamics for effective SRGBV prevention and response efforts.
Rates of school absenteeism as a result of corporal punishment among the four sub-Saharan African countries varied from 1 in 10 to 1 in 4. In Honduras, corporal punishment has been banned since at least 1996 and only 1% or less of both boys and girls reported experiencing corporal punishment by a teacher. However, over half of the girls and over a third of boys who experienced corporal punishment reported missing school. Recent research by UNICEF reinforce that severe forms of corporal punishment are still implemented in the country.
The analysis findings from Nigeria demonstrate that, while few students are disclosing experiences of physical violence, almost no students sought or received services, indicating a major gap in information about and/or confidence in seeking services. The findings were similar for Zambia and Uganda while disclosure rates were under 10% for Zambia and Honduras. Nigerian students who reported experiencing sexual violence reported almost no disclosure, service-seeking, or service-receiving.
Looking at the data, it’s evident that violence in school settings is gendered. The VACS findings specific to school settings and school-related perpetrators reinforce our understanding that violence in school settings is often gendered.
For example, male students are consistently more likely to perpetrate and report experiencing physical violence, while female students report experiencing higher rates of sexual violence. We also see notable trends among teacher-perpetrated violence; students who experienced teacher-perpetrated violence are more likely to report their perpetrator was male than was female, but there is variation in whether more male or female students report experiencing violence.
This indicates a need for more qualitative, contextual information to understand why these variations exist. We need more and better quantitative and qualitative data that capture the array of SRGBV experiences by students to guide policy- and decision-makers, practitioners, and advocates.
Our research also shows that SRGBV prevention requires a multi-pronged approach, including a number of different stakeholders, from governments to teachers unions to school administrators and faculty to parents’ associations to students to civil society. This should include:
– The development and implementation of strong legal frameworks;
– Evidence-based, locally-grounded, and integrated interventions to create safe and accountable school environments;
– A focus on changing social norms around gender and the acceptability of violence;
– Recognition of students’ agency and their active inclusion in solutions.
While our research reinforces that school environments can enable violence, they also can serve as important protective spaces for children, acting as an arena for broader social change to end violence both inside and outside of the classroom.
To learn more about SRGBV, visit our Schools page where you’ll find facts sheets, partner resources, and examples of evidence-based interventions to prevent SRGBV.